Memes and mimeograph machines

The speed at which information comes our way is increasing daily. New terminology, buzz words, and catch phrases crop up faster than dandelions in springtime. Having to ask someone what these words mean can be humiliating, especially if the only person who knows is (a) at least a full generation younger than you, and/or (b) your child, student, or someone who still needs a babysitter.  



So in an effort to keep up, from time to time I’ll post one of these newfangled words and its meaning, that we might all be better educated, able to interpret what we read, and less likely to embarrass ourselves through misinterpretation.

Enter today’s word: 
Meme 
(rhymes with cream, and theme)



You may have seen this word in reference to a YouTube video that “goes viral” or a new trend in business or entertainment. The word itself is taken from the ancient Greek word mimeme, meaning something imitated or copied.

photo by richardmasoner via PhotoRee

Do you recall those weird-smelling copies of worksheets and tests and business correspondence printed in purplish ink? Those copies were made on mimeograph machines, or mimeos, for short. Today we’re using the other half of that Greek word to say approximately the same thing.
 

photo by robzand via PhotoRee

Officially, a meme is defined as an idea, behavior, or style that spreads rapidly from person to person throughout a culture. Sounds like a virus, or some other contagious disease, right? Yep. It’s where we apply the term “going viral” to videos on YouTube and hashtags on Twitter. (A hashtag is a number symbol – # – followed by a word, or tag, that identifies a tweet as part of a topic, or category.)

Remember the girl who came to school one day with a bandanna tied around her thigh for no apparent reason? And the next day two more kids sported thigh-tied bandannas? Or the guy who sported a safety pin earring one Monday, and by Friday afternoon a half-dozen other kids had safety pins in their ears, too? If you can think of an example like that, you’ve probably witnessed the birth of a meme. 

photo by bloomingdalelibrary via PhotoRee

Memes aren’t exclusive to the Internet, either. The prevalence of vampire/werewolf-themed fiction on bookstore shelves is a literary meme gone mad. Reality television shows are another meme. Come on, how many programs about men surviving in the wild by eating fish goo and drinking their own urine do we REALLY need on TV?   

Know Your Meme is a website dedicated to tracking current Internet memes. It’s a good place to find a laugh or two, most days. It’s also a way to stay somewhat current. No one wants to be the friend who posts the “dancing baby” video on Facebook and comments,

“Have you seen this? It’s SOOOO cute!”


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